Harper's Weekly 03/30/1867


THE execution of the Reconstruction bill
was regarded as a test of the President's
disposition. It was felt that if he promptly ex-
ecuted it in its own spirit, the public mind would
be softened. If he evaded it, or was satisfied
with a mere technical execution, the desire of
his removal would greatly stimulate the friends
of impeachment. It is but fair to say that his
course has been wise. Upon consultation with
General Grant he has appointed Military Dis-
trict Commanders of whose experience and sym-
pathy with the national purpose there can be
no question. It was supposed that the Pres-
ident might name certain officers like Generals
Granger and Custer, who have been most
unpleasantly identified with his policy; but the
selection of Thomas, Sheridan, Schofield,
, and Ord is a sincere deference to
public opinion. They are men who will exe-
cute faithfully the provisions of the bill.

Congress has been engaged in removing the
difficulty which we suggested upon the passage
of the bill—its failure to define precisely the
method of its own execution. The Senate Sup-
plementary bill provides that before the 1st of
September, 1867, the military commander shall
register all voters qualified by the act. There
shall then be an election to determine if a Con-
stitutional Convention shall be held. At this
election a majority of the registered electors
must vote; and if a majority of those voting de-
clare for a Convention, it shall be held agreea-
bly to the act. The Convention, having adopt-
ed a Constitution, must submit it to the people
for ratification; and if a majority of the regis-
tered voters of the State approve it, the Pres-
ident of the Convention must forward a copy to
the President of the United States, who must
immediately lay it before Congress. If Con-
gress approves it, the State will resume its rep-
resentation in Congress.

Thus the great principle is definitively set-
tled that a State which rises in rebellion against
the Union can be restored to its position in the
Union only upon such conditions as the loyal peo-
ple in Congress shall determine. That is the ob-
vious common-sense of the situation, while the
theory of the continuous right of States, as ex-
pounded by Alexander H. Stephens, and
held by the Democratic party, is rejected as no
less foolish and untenable than the old Demo-
cratic sophistries of State sovereignty and the
doctrine that the Constitution was a condition-
al compact instead of a national bond.

The result shows the superiority of the gen-
eral popular instinct to technical chicanery. It
is the vindication of the spirit against the let-
ter. Ever since the surrender of the rebel
armies the country has been confronted with a
sophistical syllogism, which the President has
repeated in every form, and which the Secre-
tary of State has gravely offered as a great po-
litical truth. The syllogism was this. The war
was for the Union; the Union has been main-
tained; therefore every State is equal with ev-
ery other State. Now politics are extremely
practical. A nation which has spent three
thousand millions of dollars and countless pre-
cious lives in a furious war of four years to
maintain its existence will hardly surrender at
the summons of a syllogism. The reply which
the country made to the President, the Secre-
tary of State, the Democratic party, and the
late rebels, was very simple. It was this: We
have fought to maintain the Union; we have
succeeded; therefore we shall do what is nec-
essary to secure the Union from a similar peril

That was the meaning of the elections and
of the Reconstruction bill. The difference be-
tween the President and his supporters on the
one side, and the loyal American people upon
the other, is just this: the first see in the result
the destruction of the Constitution and the end
of civil liberty; the second see in it the salva-
tion of the Constitution and the beginning of
civil liberty.

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